Wednesday, 6 June 2018

You Play The Child Extremely

This week seems to have passed in a blur of marking and marking-related administration, but the weekend saw one of the highlights of the year: the English and Friends trip to the Globe Theatre. Students, staff, graduates and assorted others buy their own tickets and the Faculty pays for a bus. We go for lunch together, then take our chances with whatever's on at this time of year. We've seen some wonderful and some dreadful productions, in all sorts of weather: The Taming of the Shrew set in a Dublin tenement in 1916 was memorable for leaving us all completely baffled; Antony and Cleopatra took place in a thunderstorm so bad that the next day's newspapers all featured photos of lightning hitting the Shard building next door, while the poor actor who stepped in to play Antony that very morning tried to read a disintegrating script as he and the others slipped and fell every time they tried to move.

This year we saw Two Noble Kinsmen. It's hardly ever performed: I've never seen it, though I vaguely remember reading it as an undergrad. On paper it sounds quite dull: a version of Chaucer's 'Knight's Tale', a love triangle featuring Palamon and Arcite, two cousins who fall for the same woman – Emilia –  from their prison cell. The Arden Shakespeare describes it as 'a Jacobean dramatisation of a medieval English tale based on an Italian romance version of a Latin epic about one of the oldest and most tragic Greek legends'.

In the Shakespeare-Fletcher version, there's an unnamed Jailer's Daughter who goes mad with unrequited (unnoticed) love for one of the cousins, and a lot of morris dancing. Structurally, it's all over the place: the widowed Queens who feature so much in Act I are never seen again, while the Jailer's Daughter is bundled off and probably married well before the end.  The end isn't much cop either - a highly contrived settlement for the two young men, so equally matched.

On stage, it all worked gloriously: between Northern Broadsides' comedy chops, some astoundingly filthy gags appreciated most fully by the medieval drama specialist who sat next to me, Eliza Carthy's music and some hugely charismatic acting, particularly from Francesca Mills as the Jailer's over-sexed Daughter, it was two hours of excellent entertainment which made me wonder why it's not performed more often.

And now…back to the marking. Other than that, I'm halfway through Jonathan Lethem's Dissident Gardens, which I'm mostly enjoying even though it feels a bit Great American Novel By Numbers.

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